Original Research| Volume 55, P1-6, March 2016

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‘Tablet burden’ in patients with metastatic breast cancer

Published:December 28, 2015DOI:


      • Tablet burden is often substantial, and can cause significant inconvenience.
      • There are significant potential risks associated with polypharmacy.
      • Benefits of treating chronic conditions in these patients are questionable.
      • A more critical approach is needed regarding concomitant medications.


      The implications for patients with cancer, of the ‘tablet burden’ resulting from increasing use of oral anticancer drugs and medication for co-morbidities have not previously been well explored.


      We sought to (i) quantify tablet burden in women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), (ii) establish which groups of drug contribute most to this burden and (iii) gain insight into patients' attitudes towards oral anti-cancer treatment.


      One hundred patients with MBC anonymously completed a questionnaire describing their medication histories and attitudes towards their tablets.


      The patients (mean age 60, range 31–95) were all female and taking a median of six tablets (range 0–31) daily; 37 patients were taking >10 tablets. Oral anticancer treatment constituted the category of treatment taken by the highest proportion of patients, followed by symptomatic cancer treatments, proton pump inhibitors and cardiovascular medication. Numerically, however, symptomatic drugs accounted for 44% of all tablets and specific anti-cancer treatment for 15%; medication not directly related to the cancer accounted for the remaining 40% of tablets. A quarter of patients reported inconvenience in taking their tablets, the main reason being tablet size and one third reported forgetting their tablets at least once a week. Nearly two thirds of patients expressing a preference favoured oral anticancer treatment, the commonest reason being greater convenience.


      Tablet burden is considerable for many patients with MBC and can be problematic. A significant proportion of tablets represent treatment for co-morbidities, the significance of which may be questionable in women with MBC.


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